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Bush, Chirac seek to ease Iraq row


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PARIS, France (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac have stressed their joint support for democratic strides being made in Iraq, although the French leader admitted he was troubled by the "level of chaos" in the Mideast country.

Bush arrived in Paris Saturday as part a 36-hour European trip designed to drum up support for the war in Iraq and to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

He met with Chirac to discuss Iraq and other issues.

In Rome earlier in the day, Bush labeled the war on terror "the challenge of our time." (Full story)

Asked whether Iraq is better off because of the U.S.-led war, Chirac told reporters, "One thing is for certain, the tyrannic regime of Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. That is a positive step. What is less positive is a level of chaos."

There have been 826 U.S. troops killed in Iraq and many international forces since the Iraqi war began. Of that number, 607 have died in combat.

"We are in a situation that is extremely precarious," Chirac added.

France did not support the war, but the French leader said that while the United States and France have had "different approaches" on Iraq, they share the conviction that there is no alternative to restoring peace, security and development there.

While the war, and Bush personally, remain unpopular in France, the Allied soldiers - mainly composed of U.S. and British troops - who landed on the beaches in Normandy are still remembered and honored as heroes that liberated the country from Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.

On Sunday, Bush and Chirac will be visiting several famous World War II battlefields in Normandy where on June 6, 1944, Allied forces staged what's considered the largest amphibious landing in history.

The successful D-Day landing opened a crucial second front against Nazi Germany and marked a decisive turning point in the war.

The Allied soldiers -- mainly U.S. and British troops -- who landed on the beaches in Normandy are remembered and honored in France as heroes that liberated the country from Nazism.

Thousands of Canadian soldiers also took part in the historic operation that turned the tide for Adolf Hitler's regime.

Thousands of D-Day veterans are gathering in northern France for the weekend to mark the 60th anniversary of the landings.

In Bush and Chirac's appearance before reporters, Bush said the fight for freedom is always accompanied by sacrifice, and praised preparation of a U.N. resolution on Iraq "that will affirm the world's security commitment."

Bush and Chirac emphasized that Iraqis must determine their own form of democracy.

"Democratization is not the same as Westernization," Bush said. "Freedom takes different forms around the globe." "

I believe things are moving in the right direction," Chirac said of the U.N. talks. "Discussions are being characterized in a very positive spirit."

One reporter asked Bush whether the U.S. abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad put the United States on a par with Saddam's torture of his people.

"I was humiliated, as was most of my country. Those soldiers didn't reflect the character of the American people. They stained our honor, and the world will see a full investigation, which stands in full contrast to states run by tyrants, he said.

Earlier in the day in Rome, President Bush honored the United States' past and present relationship with Italy on the 60th anniversary of the Allied forces' liberation of the Italian capital.

"Over two centuries, our governments have been allies and adversaries and today the affection between our peoples has never been stronger," Bush said at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, shortly after talks between the two leaders.

He also referred to the war on terror, labeling it "the challenge of our time."

Berlusconi reaffirmed his support of the war in Iraq and a proposed U.N. resolution, backed by the United States and Britain, intended to formalize Iraq's return to sovereignty and authorize the presence of multinational troops.

President Bush's visit to Italy was greeted by tens of thousands of protesters, who crowded the streets of central Rome Friday to demonstrate against Italy's participation in the Iraq war.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King and Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.


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